You are a bowler playing in a Somerset Cricket League fixture. The batting team needs five runs to win but giving up two runs will provide the batsman his maiden ton.

Do you:

  1. Bowl the ball, try to get the batting team out before they make five runs; or
  2. Throw the ball to the boundary? This concedes five runs so the opposing team win and denies the batsman his maiden ton.

Option B was the unusual decision made by a player from Purnell Cricket Club in a match against Minehead Second XI. Although the reasons for him doing so are unclear, as a result he received a nine game ban from playing in the league.

The Somerset Cricket League’s Disciplinary Committee reviewed the incident and reached this decision on the basis that (1) his actions were against the spirit of the game and (2) the player had brought the league, his team and the game of cricket into disrepute. These grounds are detailed in the SCL’s Rules for the Season 2018, which is taken from the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Model Discipline Regulations. The relevant details of which are:

The Spirit of Cricket

1.2 Spirit of Cricket

Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws, but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit causes injury to the game itself. The major responsibility for ensuring the spirit of fair play rests with the captains.

1.2.4 The Spirit of the Game involves RESPECT for:

Your opponents

Your own captain and team

The role of the umpires

The game’s traditional values

1.2.5 It is against the Spirit of the Game:

To dispute an umpire’s decision by word, action or gesture

To direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire

To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance

  • appeal knowing the batsman is not out
  • advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing
  • seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent clapping or
  • unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one’s own side.

The bowler’s actions indeed went against the spirit of the game as it showed a lack of respect towards the batsman in denying him his maiden ton. It showed a lack of respect to his own team as the bowler brought the game to an unnatural and premature end. It also went against the game’s traditional values as it demonstrated an anti-competitive style of play.

Comparisons can be drawn between this and Australia’s underarm bowl of 1981, whereby New Zealand needed six runs off the last ball to tie. The Australian bowler delivered an underarm bowl making it impossible for New Zealand to score a six. This type of bowl was in fact legal at the time yet was understood to be unsportsmanlike, anti-competitive and not in line with the game’s traditional values and so not in line with the spirit of the game. However, the difference with recent events is that Australia’s tactic was designed to prevent any possibility of New Zealand winning the game.

Bringing the Sport into Disrepute

As outlined in the SCL’s Rules for the Season 2018 and the England and Wales Cricket Board’s Model Discipline Regulations:

1.2.1 Player’s Conduct

In the event of any player failing to comply with the instructions of an umpire, criticising his decision by word or action, showing dissent, or generally behaving in a manner which might bring the game into disrepute, the umpire concerned shall in the first place report the matter to the other umpire and to the player’s captain, requesting the latter to take action.

This regulation is broadly worded and no examples of disrepute are given. The meaning of disrepute has been explored previously at the Court of Arbitration of Sport. In Mikhaylo Zubkov v Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), Zubkov (a swimming coach), was caught on camera pushing and shoving his daughter (a swimmer) in an argument in a marshaling area at the World Swimming Championships in Melbourne. Similar to the ECB’s Disciplinary Code, Rule 12.1.3 of the FINA Constitution similarly provided that:

“Any Member, Member of a Member or individual member of a Member may be sanctioned, for bringing the sport into disrepute”

It was held that the conduct in question must result in public opinion of the sport being diminished. The CAS found that there was no evidence to establish actual disrepute to the sport of swimming.

Again, the Australian cricket team provide a clear and recent example of bringing the sport into disrepute following their ball tampering scandal. Australia’s Cameron Bancroft was caught rubbing the ball with sandpaper and the captain Steve Smith, who knew of Bancroft’s plan in advance, apologised saying:

I’m incredibly sorry for trying to bring the game into disrepute the way we did.

That the captain knew of the plan in advance (the tampering was planned by an unnamed ‘leadership group’), that both Smith and Bancroft initially lied saying they were attempting to alter the condition of the ball using yellow adhesive tape to which dirt and grit had gathered, that this occurred at an international level, and finally the media coverage that followed, undeniably diminished public opinion in the sport.

For the sake of fairness, the public opinion of English cricket has also recently been knocked for six. Although Ben Stokes was last week found not guilty of affray, his violent actions seen in video footage can be said to bring the sport into disrepute. It is now for the Cricket Discipline Commission to decide whether to take action against the sportsman and upon what grounds.

Yet does the present example of the Somerset Cricket League compare to the above actions of the Australia and English cricket teams? Has the bowler who works by day as an accountant, from a County cricket league really brought the game into disrepute and diminished public opinion in the sport?